Most species are nonvenomous and those that have venom use it primarily to kill and subdue prey rather than for self-defense. Some possess venom potent enough to cause painful injury or death to humans.
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Snakes can be found on every continent except Antarctica, in the sea, and as high as 16,000 feet (4,900 m) in the Himalayan Mountains of Asia. There are numerous islands from which snakes are absent, such as Ireland, Iceland, and New Zealand.
Snakes use smell to track their prey. They smell by using their forked tongues to collect airborne particles, then passing them to the vomeronasal organ or Jacobson's organ in the mouth for examination. The fork in the tongue gives snakes a sort of directional sense of smell and taste simultaneously.
All snakes are strictly carnivorous, eating small animals including lizards, frogs, other snakes, small mammals, birds, eggs, fish, snails or insects. Because snakes cannot bite or tear their food to pieces, they must swallow prey whole. The body size of a snake has a major influence on its eating habits. Smaller snakes eat smaller prey. Juvenile pythons might start out feeding on lizards or mice and graduate to small deer or antelope as an adult, for example.
Nonfatal bites from venomous snakes may result in the need for amputation of a limb or part thereof. Of the roughly 725 species of venomous snakes worldwide, only 250 are able to kill a human with one bite.